SAO PAULO – After a group stage that saw three teams advance and impress, CONCACAF endured a bittersweet day in Brazil on Sunday as Mexico crashed out of the World Cup while Costa Rica survived in dramatic fashion.
Mexico played another great game, but didn’t close it out, letting the Netherlands score a pair of late goals to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, and send ‘El Tri’ to a sixth consecutive World Cup round of 16 exit.
It was a cruel ending for a Mexico team that played the better soccer on the day, and would have been a very deserving winner if the 1-0 lead by Giovani dos Santos had held up. Rafa Marquez was left to play the role of goat just days after being the hero in the win against Croatia. The Mexican captain was whistled for a penalty call that looked like it could have gone either way, and felt like another Arjen Robben dive. To be fair, Marquez had gotten away with a penalty-worthy foul in the first half so it was tough to feel too sorry for Mexico.
And let’s face it, American fans aren’t shedding any tears for El Tri’s exit, and if it does anything, it helps ensure that the U.S. national team’s biggest rival will not advance in the World Cup past where the Americans are. Also, having Marquez be the player who committed the penalty foul will definitely unleash some Schadenfreude from the scores of U.S. fans who detest the long-time Mexican captain.
As much as Mexico suffered yet another round of 16 exit, this World Cup felt very different from the team’s more recent tournaments. In fact, you could argue that this was the most impressive Mexican World Cup team since the 1986 team that reached the quarterfinals on home soil.
The new standard-bearer for CONCACAF, at least for the time being, is Costa Rica, which continued a dream World Cup by beating Greece in penalty kicks. The Ticos converted all five penalties, while Keylor Navas stepped up with a first-class save in the fourth round to help send Costa Rica to a quarterfinal date with the same Netherlands side that eliminated Mexico.
The Ticos had never reached the quarterfinals before this tournament, and now CONCACAF could have two teams in the quarters for the first time if the U.S. takes care of business against Belgium on Tuesday.
The Americans departed Sao Paulo for Salvador on Sunday ahead of their round of 16 clash, and with Belgium suffering a rash of injuries to its defense, the U.S. is looking like less and less of an underdog heading into the match.
Of course, an underdog label hasn’t exactly stopped teams from making noise in this tournament, as Costa Rica can attest.